Zoe Saldaña

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Zoë Saldaña
Saldaña in 2022
Born
Zoë[1] Yadira Saldaña Nazario

(1978-06-19) June 19, 1978 (age 45)
Occupations
  • Actress
  • dancer
  • producer
  • singer
  • ballet dancer
  • philanthropist
  • human rights activist
Years active1999–present
Spouse
Marco Perego-Saldaña
(m. 2013)
Partners
Children3

Zoë Yadira Saldaña-Perego (/sɑːlˈdænə/ sahl-DAN,[2] Spanish: [ˈsoe salˈdaɲa]; née Saldaña Nazario; born June 19, 1978) is an American actress. Known primarily for her work in science fiction film franchises, she has starred in four of the highest-grossing films of all time (Avatar, Avatar: The Way of Water, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame). Films she has appeared in have grossed more than $15 billion worldwide and, as of 2024, she is the highest-grossing film actress.[3][4] Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2023.[5]

A trained dancer, Saldaña began her acting career in two 1999 episodes of Law & Order. Her first film role was in Center Stage (2000) in which she played a ballet dancer. She received early recognition for her work opposite Britney Spears in the road film Crossroads (2002). Beginning in 2009, Saldaña achieved a career breakthrough with her roles as Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek film series and Neytiri in James Cameron's Avatar film series. She portrayed Gamora in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023).[6] In addition to franchise work, Saldaña has starred in the science fiction film The Adam Project and the romantic drama miniseries From Scratch, both for Netflix in 2022. In 2023, she began playing the lead role of a CIA officer in the Paramount+ spy series Special Ops: Lioness.

Early life[edit]

Saldaña was born on June 19, 1978, in Passaic, New Jersey.[7] Her parents are Aridio Saldaña, who is Dominican,[8][9] and Asalia Nazario, a Dominican with partial Puerto Rican ancestry. As a child, Nazario was living with her mother in the Dominican Republic, but they immigrated to New York to escape political unrest.[citation needed] In an interview with Wired, Saldaña has said that she is three-quarters Dominican and one-quarter Puerto Rican.[10][11][12]

She and her two sisters, Cisely and Mariel, were raised bilingual in English and Spanish; the latter was their first language at home. The majority of her early childhood was spent in Jackson Heights, Queens in New York City.[13]

Their father died in a vehicle crash when Saldaña was nine. Her mother sent the three sisters to the Dominican Republic to be raised by their late father's family. She stayed in New York to work in order to afford private school for the girls.[7] The widowed mother Asalia married Dagoberto Galán, who became the stepfather of the girls. They consider him fully their father.[14][15][9]

With regard to her racial identity, Saldaña has said, "There's no one way to be Black. I'm Black the way I know how to be."[16]

Saldaña discovered her love of dance while living in the Dominican Republic. She was enrolled in the ECOS Espacio de Danza Academy studying forms of dance,[12][13][17][18] but describes ballet as her passion.[13][19] She told Vanity Fair that she quit ballet because she did not "have the feet", and had too much pride and ambition to just be in the corps de ballet.[19]

The family returned to New York City after her sophomore year; she completed her early education at Newtown High School in Queens.[19][20]

In 1995, Saldaña performed with the Faces theater group in Brooklyn.[21] She appeared in plays that encouraged teens by exploring such issues as substance abuse and adolescent sex. During these years, she performed with the New York Youth Theater; her appearance in their production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat led a talent agency to recruit her. Her dance training and her acting experience helped her land her first film role, playing ballet student Eva Rodriguez in Center Stage (2000).[12][17]

Career[edit]

Beginnings[edit]

Saldaña at Hollywood Life Magazine's Annual Breakthrough Awards in 2007

Saldaña was a member of Faces after her exposure in an episode of Law & Order (titled "Refuge, Part 2") in 1999.[22] Saldaña's first film role was in Center Stage (2000), directed by Nicholas Hytner, about dancers at the fictitious American Ballet Academy in New York city. She appeared in the Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads (2002). The film earned negative reviews from critics, but was a box-office success.[23][24] Saldaña starred in the comedy-drama Drumline (2002), alongside Nick Cannon, earning mixed reviews.[25][26]

In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), she played Anamaria, a pirate joining Will Turner and Mr. Gibbs for a chance to confront Jack Sparrow for stealing her ship. She appeared in The Terminal as Dolores Torres, an immigration officer and Star Trek fan, a role helping Saldaña during her portrayal in the Star Trek reboot (2009).[27] In 2004, she had roles in Haven and Temptation; both earned little-to-no box-office success.

In 2005, Saldaña appeared in Constellation, Guess Who with Ashton Kutcher, and Dirty Deeds. She starred in the romantic comedy-dramas Premium (2006) and After Sex (2007).[28] Saldaña starred in Blackout, a television film set in New York city during the Northeast Blackout of 2003. The film premiered at the 2007 Zurich Film Festival,[29] and debuted on BET in 2008.[30] Saldaña had a supporting role as Angie Jones in the action thriller Vantage Point (2008).[31]

Breakthrough with franchise roles[edit]

Saldaña at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2010.

Saldaña appeared in two roles in 2009, raising her profile considerably.[17] She played Nyota Uhura in Star Trek.[32] The film's director J. J. Abrams asked Saldaña to play the role because he enjoyed her work. She met with Nichelle Nichols to understand the creation of Uhura's background and name of the character.[33] Saldaña's mother was a Star Trek fan, leaving voice-mails during filming, advising on the role.[34] Steven Spielberg taught her the Vulcan salute five years earlier while he directed her in The Terminal.[27] Star Trek (2009) was a box-office success earning $385.7 million.[35]

Saldaña's second high-profile film in 2009 was Avatar, where she portrayed the indigenous hunter Neytiri. Avatar was well received by critics, accumulating an approval rating of 83% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[36] It grossed $2.7 billion worldwide to become the highest-grossing film of all time,[37] as well as in the United States and Canada. It also became the first film to gross more than $2 billion worldwide.[38] The film was nominated for ten Saturn Awards, and won all ten at the 36th Saturn Awards ceremony. Saldaña's Saturn Award for Best Actress win marked a rare occurrence for an all-CG character.[39]

In 2010, Saldaña performed in The Losers as Aisha al-Fadhil, a native Bolivian woman. For the role, she was required to gain weight to carry weapons for eight hours a day.[40] In 2010, she appeared in Takers, Death at a Funeral, and Burning Palms. Her television ad for Calvin Klein's "Envy" line debuted in 2010.[41] In 2011, Saldaña starred in the romantic comedy The Heart Specialist, and portrayed assassin Cataleya Restrepo in the crime drama Colombiana. Although the latter film earned negative reviews from critics, Saldaña's performance was praised.[42]

In 2012, she appeared in the romantic drama The Words, earning negative reviews from critics with little success at the box-office.[43][44]

In 2013, Saldaña reprised her role as Uhura in Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to the Star Trek re-boot. Like the previous film, it was a box-office success, ending its North American theater run with a box office total of $228,778,661, placing it as the eleventh-highest-grossing film of 2013.[45] It earned $467,365,246 worldwide, ranking it in 14th place for 2013, and making it the highest-grossing film of the franchise.[46] Saldaña voiced her character in the 2013 release of the Star Trek video game.

Saldaña at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival

In 2014, Saldaña played Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy.[47][48] Saldaña portrayed the character with make-up rather than computer generated imagery (CGI) or performance capture.[49] The film became the third-highest-grossing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, behind The Avengers and Iron Man 3.[50] It was the third-highest-grossing 2014 film (behind Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies), and the highest-grossing superhero film of 2014.[50][51] The film earned positive reviews. Saldaña was nominated for numerous awards for her work in the film, including Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Actress in an Action Movie, Favorite Action Movie Actress at the People's Choice Awards, and Best On-Screen Transformation at the MTV Movie Awards.[52][53]

In May 2014, she performed in Rosemary's Baby, a television adaptation of Ira Levin's horror novel. Saldaña also co-produced the four-hour two-part show.[54] In 2014, Saldaña was recognized by Elle magazine during The Women in Hollywood Awards, honoring women for achievements in film, spanning all aspects of the motion-picture industry, including acting, directing, and producing.[55]

2016–present[edit]

Saldaña starred in Nina, an unauthorized biography about the jazz musician Nina Simone released in April 2016. The film depicts the late singer's rise to fame and relationship with her manager Clifton Henderson. Simone's family were critical of the decision to cast her in the role.[56] In August 2020, Saldaña apologized for taking on the role, saying "I'm so sorry. I know better today and I'm never going to do that again. She's one of our giants and someone else should step up. Somebody else should tell her story."[57] In 2016, she co-starred in the science-fiction sequel Star Trek Beyond released in July, and Ben Affleck's crime drama Live by Night released in December.[58]

Saldaña returned as Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, released in May 2017.[59] She reprised the role in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and its sequel Avengers: Endgame (2019), albeit as an alternate version of the character in the latter film. She returned in this role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023), her last film in the MCU as Gamora.[60]

Also in 2017, Saldaña played Mrs. Mollé in I Kill Giants, Anders Walter's adaptation of Joe Kelly's graphic novel I Kill Giants. Shooting commenced in Ireland in September 2016.[61] Also that year, she appeared in My Little Pony: The Movie performing the voice of pirate parrot Captain Celaeno.[62]

On May 3, 2018, she received a star at 6920 Hollywood Boulevard in the Motion Pictures section of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[63][64][65]

In 2021, Saldaña starred in two Netflix productions, appearing as Rosita in the musical Vivo and as the titular character in Maya and the Three. She joined an all-star cast in David O. Russell's Amsterdam.[66]

Saldaña reprised her role as Neytiri in Avatar: The Way of Water (2022), including attending the premiere in Los Angeles on December 12, 2022.[67][68][69] As part of her role, she performed vocals for the original song "The Songcord" on the film's soundtrack, penned by Simon Franglen.[70][71] She is returning as Neytiri for Avatar 3, set for release in 2025.[67] She will also star in the Paramount+ television series Special Ops: Lioness, created by Taylor Sheridan.[72]

Personal life[edit]

Saldaña at the 2014 Alma Awards while pregnant

In June 2010, Saldaña was engaged to her longtime boyfriend Keith Britton, an actor and the CEO of My Fashion Database.[73] In November 2011, she and Britton announced they had ended their relationship after eleven years.[74]

Saldaña was in a relationship with actor Bradley Cooper from December 2011 to January 2013.[75]

In March 2013, Saldaña began dating Italian artist Marco Perego. They married in June 2013 in London.[76][77] In July 2015, Saldaña revealed Perego adopted her surname upon marriage.[78][79] Thereafter, Zoë became Zoë Saldaña-Perego and Marco became Marco Perego-Saldaña. Their children would be Perego-Saldaña.[80] Saldaña and Perego have three sons, identical twins born in November 2014, Cy Aridio and Bowie Ezio [81] and a third son named Zen born in February 2017.[82][83] Saldaña has stated her children will be multi-lingual because she and her husband speak Spanish, Italian and English around them.[84]

In July 2016, during an interview with Net-a-Porter's The Edit, Saldaña revealed she has Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease, along with her mother and sisters. To combat the effects of this disease, Saldaña said she and her husband adhere to a gluten- and dairy-free diet.[85]

Saldaña is a supporter of FINCA International, a micro-finance organization.[86]

In 2017, she founded BESE, a digital media platform designed to "combat the lack of diversity in the mainstream media" with an interest on positive stories within the Latino community.[87] In September 2020, Saldaña used her social media presence to participate in the VoteRiders #IDCheck Challenge to help spread the word about voter ID requirements for that year's presidential election.[88]

Filmography[edit]

Key
Denotes productions that have not yet been released

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2000 Center Stage Eva Rodriguez
2001 Get Over It Maggie
Snipes Cheryl
2002 Crossroads Kit
Drumline Laila
2003 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Anamaria
2004 The Terminal Dolores Torres
Haven Andrea
Temptation Annie
2005 Constellation Rosa Boxer
Guess Who Theresa Jones
Dirty Deeds Rachel Buff
The Curse of Father Cardona Flor
2006 Premium Charli
The Heart Specialist Donna
2007 After Sex Kat
Blackout Claudine
2008 Vantage Point Angie Jones
2009 Star Trek Nyota Uhura
The Skeptic Cassie
Avatar Neytiri
2010 The Losers Aisha
Takers Lily Jansen
Death at a Funeral Elaine
Burning Palms Sara Cotton
2011 Colombiana Cataleya Restrepo
2012 The Words Dora Jansen
2013 Blood Ties Vanessa
Star Trek Into Darkness Nyota Uhura
Out of the Furnace Lena Warren
2014 Unity Narrator Documentary
Infinitely Polar Bear Maggie Stuart
Guardians of the Galaxy Gamora
The Book of Life María Posada Voice role
2016 Nina Nina Simone
Star Trek Beyond Nyota Uhura
Live by Night Graciella Corrales
2017 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Gamora
I Kill Giants Mrs. Mollé
My Little Pony: The Movie Captain Celaeno Voice role
2018 Avengers: Infinity War Gamora
2019 Missing Link Adelina Fortnight Voice role
Avengers: Endgame Gamora
2020 Vampires vs. the Bronx Becky Cameo
2021 Vivo Rosa Voice role
2022 The Adam Project Laura
Amsterdam Irma
Avatar: The Way of Water Neytiri
2023 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Gamora
The Absence of Eden Esmee
Good Burger 2 Herself Cameo[89]
2024 Emilia Perez TBA Completed
2025 Avatar 3 Neytiri Post-production
2029 Avatar 4 Neytiri Filming

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1999 Law & Order Belinca 2 episodes
2004 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Gabrielle Vega 1 episode
2006–2007 Six Degrees Regina Recurring role, 5 episodes
2013 Comedy Bang! Bang! Herself 1 episode
2014 Rosemary's Baby Rosemary Woodhouse Miniseries, 2 episodes; also executive producer
2016 Lip Sync Battle Herself Episode: "Zoe Saldana vs. Zachary Quinto"
2020 Home Movie: The Princess Bride Princess Buttercup Miniseries; episode: "Chapter Seven: The Pit of Despair"
2021 Maya and the Three Princess Maya Miniseries, 9 episodes; voice role
2022 From Scratch Amy Miniseries, 8 episodes; also executive producer[90]
2023 MPower Herself Episode: "Gamora"
Marvel Cinematic Universe docuseries; executive producer (all episodes)[91]
2023–present Special Ops: Lioness Joe Main role; also executive producer

Video games[edit]

Year Title Voice role Notes
2013 Star Trek Nyota Uhura Also likeness

Theme park attractions[edit]

Year Title Role Venue
2017 Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout! Gamora Disney California Adventure
2022 Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind Epcot

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Work Result Ref.
2003 MTV Movie Awards Best Kiss (with Nick Cannon) Drumline Nominated
2005 Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie: Female Breakout Star Guess Who Nominated
2006 Black Reel Awards Best Actress Nominated
Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated
2009 ALMA Awards Actress in Film Star Trek Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Best Ensemble Cast Won
Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie Actress: Action Nominated
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Best Ensemble Nominated
People's Choice Awards Favorite Breakout Movie Actress Nominated
Scream Awards Best Science Fiction Actress Nominated
Breakout Performance – Female Nominated
Best Ensemble Nominated
BET Awards Best Actress Nominated
Black Reel Awards Best Actress Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Best Acting Ensemble Nominated
Empire Awards Best Actress Avatar Won
Kids' Choice Awards Cutest Couple (with Sam Worthington) Nominated
Favorite Movie Actress Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best Female Performance Nominated
Best Kiss (with Sam Worthington) Nominated
Scream Awards Best Science Fiction Actress Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Actress Won
Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie Actress: Sci-Fi Won
Choice Movie Actress: Action The Losers Nominated
Choice Movie Actress: Comedy Death at a Funeral Nominated
2010 Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Avatar Nominated
2011 ALMA Awards Favorite Movie Actress – Drama/Adventure Takers Nominated
BET Awards Best Actress Death at a Funeral Nominated
The Losers Nominated
Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated
2012 BET Awards Best Actress Colombiana Nominated
Black Reel Awards Best Actress Nominated
Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Nominated
Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie Actress: Action Won
ALMA Awards Favorite Movie Actress Drama/Adventure Won
2013 Teen Choice Awards Choice Summer Movie Star: Female Star Trek Into Darkness Nominated
2015 Black Reel Awards Outstanding Voice Performance The Book of Life Nominated
Outstanding Television Movie or Limited Series (as a producer) Rosemary's Baby Nominated
Outstanding Actress, TV Movie or Limited Series Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Guardians of the Galaxy Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Actress in an Action Movie Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best On-Screen Transformation Nominated
People's Choice Awards Favorite Action Movie Actress Nominated
Image Awards Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance The Book of Life Nominated
Imagen Foundation Awards Best Actress - Feature Film Won
2016 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Butt-Kicker Star Trek Beyond Nominated
Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie Actress: AnTEENcipated Nominated
Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Infinitely Polar Bear Nominated
2017 Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie Actress: Sci-Fi Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Won
Choice MovieShip (shared with Chris Pratt) Nominated
2018 Choice Liplock (shared with Chris Pratt) Avengers: Infinity War Nominated
Choice Actress: Action Nominated
2019 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Movie Actress Nominated
Favorite Butt-Kicker Nominated
Teen Choice Awards Choice Actress: Action Avengers: Endgame Nominated
2022 Image Awards Best Voice-Over Actor Maya and the Three Nominated
Hollywood Music in Media Awards Best Original Song in a Feature Film Avatar: The Way of Water Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Motion Capture Performance Won
2023 Black Reel Awards Outstanding Voice Performance Won
Hollywood Critics Association Awards Best Voice or Motion-Capture Performance Nominated
Austin Film Critics Association Awards Best Voice Acting/Animated/Digital Performance Nominated [113]
Critics' Choice Super Awards Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie Nominated [114]
Latino Entertainment Journalists Association Best Voice or Motion Capture Performance Nominated [115]
Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special From Scratch Nominated [116]
Asia Content Awards & Global OTT Awards Best Lead Actress Special Ops: Lioness Nominated [117]

References[edit]

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